Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Southern New Year's Day Feast

Growing up, Mama always served black-eyed peas, stewed tomatoes, and turnip greens on New Year’s Day. Now, I can honestly say, I really didn’t like the menu as a kid, but now I love to make it and tell my kids the reasons for serving each of the traditional foods. For years, I thought we had to eat these dishes just because Mama said so, but the foods eaten on New Year’s Day were chosen generations ago as symbols of good luck and prosperity. Superstitious? Yes, and steeped in Southern tradition. Delicious? Absolutely, so get cookin’ and dig in!

Black-Eyed Peas...For many years, black-eyed peas have been eaten on New Year’s Day in hopes of bringing good luck in the coming year. Many cultures eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day and even the ancient Babylonians ate the dried legumes hoping for good luck. When Sephardi Jews came to Georgia in the 1730s, they brought with them the practice of eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day. And, by the time of the Civil War, many non-Jews were eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day, as well, hoping for better times. Black-eyed peas are traditionally cooked with ham or salt pork, as the hog symbolizes prosperity. Nowadays, we still cook the black-eyed peas with ham or the ham hock because (many times) we have it left over from our Christmas meal.

Rice...Rice-growing in the U.S. began in the South in the late 17th century. A ship's captain from Madagascar gave a Charleston farmer rice seeds that flourished in the South Carolina lowcountry's swampy soil. The "Carolina Gold" rice proved to be a cash crop for struggling farmers and built wealth for the region. Rice symbolizes wealth and black-eyed peas bring good luck, so eating Hoppin’ John on New Year’s Day should “fare ye well” in the new year. Hoppin’ John is an inexpensive dish to prepare and is a lovely Leftover Makeover for your Christmas ham and cooked rice. You can use canned black-eyed peas in this dish, but soaking your dried peas overnight and then cooking them with the ham hock will save you money and create a more flavorful dish.

Stewed Tomatoes...I have no idea why stewed tomatoes are served on New Year’s Day. When I tried to research and find the reason for this dish to be eaten on New Year’s, I couldn’t find one. I suppose it’s because tomatoes have such an abundant yield in the summer that most people canned their own tomatoes to preserve them for winter eating. And, on January 1st, there would (most likely) still be plenty jars of tomatoes in the pantry. My grandmothers made this sweet dish very simply, cooking 1 quart of tomatoes slowly with sugar, butter, salt & pepper. Then, they would add chunks of bread at the end to soak up that delicious sauce and thicken the dish making what my family calls “stewed tomatoes.”

Greens...Greens of any kind are thought to bring good luck and prosperity because the leaves represent paper currency. In many parts of the world, cabbage is a New Year’s Day food since this leafy vegetable is in season. But, I grew up eating turnip greens on New Year’s Day. Turnip greens are the leaves that grow on the turnip plant as the root vegetable grows underground. They were prepared very similarly to the black-eyed peas, being boiled with ham hock. Turnip greens, collard greens, and kale are plentiful and inexpensive this time of year, so they are a natural choice for New Year’s Day. Plus, eating them is believed to bring wealth, as they symbolize money. So, why not start the year with a little bit of green?

When my New Year’s Day plate is full of Hoppin’ John, stewed tomatoes, and turnip greens with a side of cornbread, that says good luck and prosperity to me. May 2010 bring you the blessings of health and wealth with good eating, too!

Hoppin’ John

1/2 lb. dried black-eyed peas
1 T. olive oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 small ham hock (or 1/2 c. chopped country ham)
1 qt. water
4 c. cooked rice
1 T. fresh chopped parsley
1 T. chopped ham (for garnish)

Cover the beans with cold water and let them soak overnight.
In a large pot over medium heat, add the olive oil, onion, garlic, and ham hock. Cook until the onions are transparent, about 5 minutes. Add the soaked peas and the water; cook, covered, until the peas are tender, about 30 minutes. Remove the ham hock and strain mixture, reserving cooking water for another use. Return cooked peas to pot and fold in the cooked rice. Salt and pepper to taste. (Do not add salt to beans while cooking, as they will be tough.) Stir in parsley and top with chopped ham. Serve with hot sauce.

Stewed Tomatoes

1 (28-oz) can whole, peeled tomatoes
1/4 c. sugar
4-5 slices of stale bread
salt & pepper to taste

Drain the tomatoes, reserving the liquid. Hand crush the tomatoes into a large saucepan. Add the sugar and the reserved liquid. Cook over medium low heat, stirring occasionally and being careful not to let it burn, for about 20 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Tear the bread into chunks and drop into tomato mixture, stirring well until most of the liquid is absorbed by the bread. Remove from heat and serve.

Turnip Greens

2 T. olive oil
1 ham hock (or 1 lb. smoked salt pork, cut into chunks)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 qt. vegetable stock
1/2 t. red pepper flakes, crushed
1/2 t. salt
2 T white vinegar
2 lbs. fresh turnip greens, washed, stems removed and roughly chopped (or your favorite winter greens)
dash of ground nutmeg

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the ham hock (or salt pork) and brown on all sides, about 6 minutes. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in the broth and next 3 ingredients scraping the brown bits off the bottom of the pot; add the turnip greens and stir to combine. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, cover, and simmer until greens are tender, about 40 minutes. Remove the ham hock (or salt pork) and add a dash of ground nutmeg. Stir well and cook 3 minutes more. Serve with cornbread.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Leftover Makeover for Cranberry Orange Chicken

The week before Christmas week is always the busiest week of the year for me. There's shopping to do, gifts to wrap, cookies to bake, friends to visit, family to see, mantles to decorate, trees to trim, on and on. All this is in addition to my normal life of schlepping kids wherever they need to go, overseeing homework, keeping the house tidy, taming the laundry beast, and cooking for my family. The secret to a successful Christmas is to plan and organize. Santa's not the only one who needs a list to get through the season. I need quite a few lists, actually.
I make a menu plan each week, but special attention was given to this particular week because I didn't want to spend much time preparing supper each night. So, this is the perfect week for Leftover Makeovers. First, I cooked a fun Cranberry Orange Chicken in the slow cooker. I made sure I had plenty chicken, rice and broccoli left over, so I could throw together the Chicken Fried Rice later in the week. I included butternut squash and broccoli in the dish because those veggies are in season now and, therefore, plentiful, fresh, and less expensive. But, you could use carrots, peas, green beans, or your family's favorite veggies as a substitute. Chicken Fried Rice is a recipe that I never make from "scratch" on the night I serve it. In other words, it is always made with leftovers. The trick is that I plan to have the leftovers.
This recipe calls for 2 cups of cooked diced chicken. That chicken could come from a roast, a rotisserie deli chicken, grilled chicken breasts, or baked chicken parts. As long as you have 2 cups, you'll be fine. In fact, if you'd prefer to decrease or omit the meat altogether, you can. Just increase the substantial veggies. You want approximately 6 cups of rice, veggies, and/or meat (all combined) to create the right consistency for fried rice.
Try this Leftover Makeover by cooking your rice, broccoli, butternut squash, and chicken early in the week for other meals, then toss together the leftovers for this easy and filling one-dish meal.

Chicken Fried Rice

2 T peanut oil
1 c. butternut squash, diced
1/2 c. red pepper, diced
1/4 c. onion, chopped
1 c. broccoli, steamed & chopped
2 c. cooked, diced chicken
2 c. cooked, cold rice
1 egg, beaten
3 T soy sauce
1 T sesame oil
1/4 t. salt
black pepper to taste
chopped green onion, optional
toasted sesame seeds, optional

Heat peanut oil in wok (or large skillet) over medium heat. Saute butternut squash, red pepper, and onion until squash is nearly tender. Reduce to medium and add broccoli and chicken, heating through. Stir in rice. Make a well in rice mixture, add egg and scramble. Stir scrambled egg into rice mixture. Add soy sauce and sesame oil, stirring well. Add salt and pepper to taste. Top with chopped green onion and toasted sesame seeds, if desired.

*note* You can use a variety of cooked meats in this recipe, if desired. Slivered ham, sliced cooked beef, cooked shrimp, sliced cooked pork all work well as a substitution for the chicken. Or create a veggie meal by substituting the meat for chopped cooked cabbage.

Cranberry Orange Chicken

2 1/2 to 3 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs and/or breasts
8 oz. whole cranberry sauce
2/3 c. Orange marmalade
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 envelope dry onion soup mix
1/4 c. flour

Mix cranberry sauce and remaining ingredients. Pour sauce evenly over chicken in slow cooker. Don’t stir. Cover and cook on low for 3 to 5 hours, or until chicken is cooked through. Serve chicken with steamed broccoli and rice topped with the sauce.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

A Spicy, Sweet & Smoky Treat

The smoky, spicy taste of the chipotle pepper adds a unique, Southwest flavor to many dishes. Experiment with the amount of pepper you use to determine just the right kick. I find it difficult to remove seeds (which decreases heat) from the chipotle, so I just use one pepper in most of my dishes. Using more than one will increase the heat and flavor.
I add a chopped chipotle pepper and adobo sauce to chili, casseroles, veggie beef soup, cornbread, even macaroni & cheese. Chipotle peppers can be added to any dish that could use a smoky, spicy, Southwestern kick. If your family likes the flavor, experiment a little by adding one chopped chipotle pepper with a little adobo sauce to your favorite dish.
I buy chipotle peppers in adobo sauce in the can. Generally, I only use one or two at a time. So, what do I do with the rest of the can of peppers? I line a cookie sheet with wax paper. Then I place each pepper with a little bit of adobo sauce about 2 inches apart on the wax paper. Top the peppers with another sheet of wax paper, press lightly, and freeze on the cookie sheet until firm. Remove from freezer and cut squares around each pepper making individually frozen peppers for future use. Stack frozen peppers (still pressed between wax paper) in a gallon-size freezer bag and freeze until needed. This same method works for pesto; freeze in tablespoon or 1/4 cup portions.

Chipotle Sweet Potato Biscuits

5 T cold butter, cut into small cubes
2 1/4 c self-rising flour
1/2 - 2/3 c. buttermilk
1/4 c. brown sugar
1 c. sweet potatoes, cooked, mashed, and cold (or sweet potato casserole *see note)
1 chipotle pepper, chopped
zest of 1 lime, chopped
juice of ½ of one lime

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cut butter into flour with a pastry blender or fork until crumbly. Add buttermilk and remaining ingredients stirring the mixture just until moistened. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator for about 1 hour. On lightly floured surface, pat dough to 1/2-inch thickness; cut with a 2-inch round biscuit cutter. Bake at 425 degrees for 10-12 minutes or until lightly golden.

*If you use leftover sweet potato casserole, you may want to decrease the brown sugar a bit so that your biscuits aren’t too sweet (as if there is such a thing!)

*These unbaked biscuits freeze well up to 3 months. Chipotle Sweet Potato Biscuits can also be used as toppers for pot pies or casseroles. Simply top the unbaked casserole with the cut dough and bake. Try them as a topper for your Turkey Pot Pie after Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Orange Roasted Turkey

The recipe I've posted for Orange Roasted Chicken can be used to roast your Thanksgiving turkey! Simply double or triple the recipe, depending on the size of your turkey. Oven roasting bags are available in "turkey-size", as well. Be sure to cook your turkey until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh registers 180 degrees.
And, here's a simple Cranberry Sauce recipe that pairs perfectly with the citrus infused turkey.

Cranberry Sauce
1 can whole cranberry sauce
1 can mandarin oranges, drained
1/2 c. chopped pecans
1/2 c. shredded coconut

Mix together and refrigerate 1 hour before serving.

I have to thank my sister-in-law, Sarah, for the Orange Roasted Turkey recipe. She cooks our family's Thanksgiving turkey this way, and it is always juicy, moist, and flavorful. Give it a try and soak up the compliments for a job well done!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Venison is IN

If you ask my daddy what his favorite day of the year is, you would expect him to answer with Christmas Day, his birthday, his anniversary, or the first day of vacation. While those days, and others spent with his family, are important to Daddy, his FAVORITE day of each year is "the third Saturday in November." Many of you will know immediately that that date is the beginning of deer hunting season (rifle/shotgun) in Virginia, and every die-hard hunter looks forward to that day each year. This year, it happens to be the 2nd Saturday because the actual rule, as stated by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries reads "the Saturday prior to the 3rd Monday in November." So, deer hunting season is in full swing here in Virginia.
Now, what does the first day of hunting season have to do with my cooking blog?? Well, I have been eating deer since I was knee-high to a duck, and if there is one thing I do know how to cook, it's deer meat. Many people think deer meat is gamey. That is true if the meat is not handled properly. I can't stress this enough. The hunter really has to know what she/he is doing when field dressing, skinning, processing, butchering, and soaking the meat. Deer meat, often called venison, is actually a tasty, low-fat, naturally hormone & preservative free source of protein that is abundant in The Old Dominion. I don't like gamey- or wild-tasting venison...I don't know of anyone who does. If you know a hunter and you trust that she/he processes the deer meat safely, try cooking with venison. I cook with venison in many recipes, as I often substitute deer meat for beef. The fresh meat should not smell yucky; it should just smell like meat. If it has a funky smell, it will taste funky; so don't bother cooking it. From properly processed deer meat, I make maple-glazed meatballs, barbecue, pot roast, venison stew, venison veggie soup, spaghetti sauce, and my new favorite is my sister's jagerschnitzel.
You want an inexpensive meat for your family? Venison is your answer. Each year, Daddy kills a doe and has the meat ground (except the choice loin, which is sliced or kept whole). The cost of processing the meat this way is approximately $60. The average deer will produce around 35 pounds of meat. That's $1.71 per pound. Venison is quite economical, plus deer meat is a healthy choice for those looking to cut fat in their diets and still eat meat.
Find a friend who hunts or contact a local hunt club, and see if you could purchase venison for your family this winter. Hunters for the Hungry is an organization that provides venison to hungry families throughout Virginia. Visit their website to learn more about this Virginia charity, and to see a list of deer processors in Virginia. Any hunter will be happy to guide you in finding a nearby processing facility if you want a deer ground or processed into stew meat, roasts, and steaks. Especially when it is ground, venison is a versatile meat that you can use as a substitution for costly ground round.
When I went away to college, the home-cooked meal I craved was Fried Venison. My mother would thinly slice the tenderloin, dust each cutlet in flour, salt and pepper, and fry them in vegetable oil. Then, she'd make an onion gravy and mashed potatoes, too. This meal says "home" to me because my Daddy is never happier than when he has spent his whole day hunting. Coming in from the cold to this home-cooked meal, he regales us with all the hunting stories of the day. He spares no detail as he tells us of the big, old buck who outsmarted him again. Good luck this season, Daddy!
Here's the recipe for Jagerschnitzel, which is German for escalope. It's very similar to my childhood favorite, but I've made it a little healthier by using peanut oil (and less of it) and I added mushrooms to the gravy to make it heartier. And, yes, this recipe works well with pork, chicken, or veal, too!

Venison Jagerschnitzel...simply put, this is a venison cutlet with mushroom gravy

1/3 c. chicken breader (I use House Autry)
1/4 t. coarsely ground pepper
1/2 t. seasoned salt
4 (4-oz.) venison loin steaks, pounded to 1/4-in. thickness
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 c. dry unseasoned wheat bread crumbs
3 T. peanut oil (or vegetable)

For Gravy:
1 T. butter
1/4 c. finely chopped sweet onion
8 oz. fresh mushrooms, sliced
1/2 c. dry white wine
2 c. beef or venison stock
1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 t. seasoned salt

1 lemon, cut into wedges
1 T. fresh chopped parsley

In a shallow dish, combine chicken breader and next 2 ingredients. Place eggs in a second shallow dish and bread crumbs in a third shallow dish; arrange three dishes in order. Dredge venison steaks in chicken breader mixture to coat. Dip steaks in eggs; then dredge in bread crumbs. In a 12-inch skillet, heat 1-2 T. oil over medium heat; cook steaks 4-6 minutes or until browned, turning steaks once and adding oil as necessary. Remove steaks to serving plate and keep warm with tented foil. To make gravy, melt butter in skillet; add onions and cook until transparent. Add mushrooms and wine, stirring to scrape bits off bottom of pan. Cook 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally. In 4-cup measure, combine stock and 1/4 c. flour. Gradually stir stock mixture into skillet. Cook 8-10 minutes or until gravy is thick and bubbly, stirring constantly. Stir in 1/4 t. seasoned salt. (adding salt before now will make mushrooms tough.) Serve mushroom gravy over venison cutlets and smashed potatoes. Top with fresh chopped parsley and fresh lemon wedges for squeezing.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Hubby's Favorite Steak & Potatoes...a New Way

There is something classic and all-American about a grilled steak and mashed potatoes. My husband could eat this meal every night of the week. He may just vary the potatoes...sometimes baked, sometimes fried, sometimes mashed. So, grilled steak is generally a weekend meal for us and often a steak is leftover, as are a few servings of mashed potatoes. I don’t like to re-heat the steak in the microwave for fear of overcooking it, and leftover mashed potatoes just aren’t as good as the first night. For a quick weeknight meal, I turn those leftovers into creamy, hearty Steak & Potato Soup. The measurements for the steak and potatoes are approximate. Just use close to that amount in what you have leftover. Try it the next time you have steak (or any cut of beef) and mashed or baked potatoes leftover.

Steak & Potato Soup

2 T olive oil
3/4 c. onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 c. flour
4 c. water, divided
2 ½ c. mashed potatoes
1 T fresh thyme, chopped
½ t. salt
1/4 t. ground pepper
1 c. cheddar cheese, shredded
2 c. milk
2 c. steak, cubed

In Dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and saute until onion is transparent. In small bowl, combine flour with 1/4 c. water, stir until smooth; set aside. To onions and garlic, add remaining water and next 4 ingredients. Bring to a boil and slowly stir in flour mixture, stirring constantly for about 4 minutes or until slightly thickened. Add cheese and stir until melted. Reduce heat to low. Add milk and steak being sure not to let soup return to a boil. Stir well and heat through. Salt and pepper to taste.

Side suggestion: cornbread & green salad

Friday, November 6, 2009

Orange Roasted Chicken

A number of ladies who attended Ladies' Latte last night requested the Orange Roasted Chicken recipe...Here it is! Enjoy!

This week’s recipe uses a meat thermometer, citrus zester, and an oven roasting bag. You may never have used a meat thermometer, but I always use mine to make sure meats are cooked to the proper internal temperature. Most models even have the temperatures and different meats listed on the thermometer, so they are quite user-friendly. A citrus zester is a small tool that you lightly drag across the peel of citrus fruits to shave off that wonderfully fragrant and tasty zest. You could also use a microplane by grating the fruit across the edge as you would a cheese grater. Oven roasting bags trap steam which keeps the meat moist and tender. Of course, you can use a roasting pan and cover with aluminum foil, but roasting bags make clean-up quick and easy. If you use a roasting pan, you will need to baste the chicken half-way through baking.
I ALWAYS bake a larger chicken than we will eat in one sitting. I do this so that I will have about 2 cups of cooked chicken left over. I will turn that flavorful chicken into another dish later in the week. And, I NEVER discard the cooking liquid. After it cools, I pour it through a sieve and then into ice cube trays or small plastic baby food containers with lids. Then, I freeze this perfectly seasoned broth to use later when cooking rice, or I add it to mashed potatoes, soups, pastas, etc.
While this chicken is roasting, place a few sweet potatoes in the oven, too, for about 45 minutes to one hour. Just place them on the oven rack and they will bake just fine. To serve, split the sweet potatoes lengthwise and top with a pat of butter and a sprinkle of brown sugar. Perfect and simple side dish for this citrus-infused chicken!

Orange Roasted Chicken
4-5 lb. Roaster chicken
2 oranges
4-6 garlic cloves, sliced
1 sweet onion, quartered
4 T. olive oil, divided
1/4 c. orange juice
1 T. Orange zest (from one of the oranges)
1 t. salt
½ t. garlic powder
½ t. onion powder
½ t. paprika
½ t. black pepper

Wash roaster inside and out, and pat dry. Zest one orange and then cut it into quarters. Slice other orange into 1/4-inch slices. Coat cavity with 1-2 T. Olive oil and stuff with orange quarters, onion quarters, and some garlic slices. Stuff orange slices and garlic slices under loosened skin covering the breasts and thighs. Mix remaining olive oil, orange juice, orange zest, and next 5 ingredients and set aside. Place stuffed roaster in oven roasting bag and follow instructions on package. Also place in roasting bag any remaining orange slices or garlic slices. Pour orange juice mixture over stuffed roaster. Tie bag and place in pan, as per instructions on package. Bake in 350 degree oven for about 1 hour and 45 minutes or until meat thermometer inserted into thickest part of thigh reads 180 degrees . Let chicken stand 5 minutes before carving.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Butternut Squash...A Good Gourd!

Butternut squash is a versatile and tasty fall vegetable. It can be a savory side dish with garlic and thyme or it can be a sweet, cinnamony treat, as well as a creamy soup or braised in stews. Some people are hesitant to cook butternut squash because of the gourd’s tough skin. Here’s a trick to making the butternut squash more user-friendly.
Pierce squash with a knife a few times and place directly on rack in preheated 325 degree oven for about 15-20 minutes. When cool enough to handle, peel with a vegetable peeler, scoop out the seeds, and cube the squash. Spray a baking dish with non-stick spray and place cubed squash in it. Top squash with 1/4 c. apple or orange juice, and a sprinkle of cinnamon, nutmeg, and/or brown sugar. Bake until squash is tender. Drizzle with honey or maple syrup to serve. Of course, it is easiest to prepare and roast butternut squash while you have another dish baking in the oven. Don’t fuss over the oven temperature: if you are baking something at 350 degrees, throw the squash in there for 10-15 minutes, and it will still peel and cube fine. Also, if you don’t have time to wait around for the squash to cool, handle it with a pot holder.
Here’s another recipe for butternut squash. This one is a savory side dish that pairs nicely with just about any meat.

Butternut Green Bean Saute

1 butternut squash
2 T olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb fresh green beans and/or wax beans
1 T fresh thyme, chopped
1/4 c. vegetable stock
salt & pepper to taste
Partially cook squash as per directions above. In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Saute garlic, being careful not to burn. Add cubed butternut squash, season with salt and pepper, and stir well. Cook 4 minutes stirring occasionally. Increase heat to medium-high, add beans, thyme, and vegetable stock. Stir well, cover and cook until squash and beans are tender and desired doneness, about 5 minutes. Salt & pepper to taste. Add red pepper flakes for a little heat, if desired.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Scanning the Grocery Flyers SAVES money!

The closest grocery store to my house is Food Lion, so naturally, I do most of my weekly shopping there. When scanning the weekly flyer, I am looking for the best deals, not necessarily what the flyer is showcasing. This week’s flyer highlights 9 meats, but the best deals save you the most money. Each week, Madame Deals compiles this information on so the work is done for you. Here are my meat and produce picks for this week (10/28-11/03), along with prep and storage tips:
1. Boston Butt Pork Roast is $.98 a pound. Ask the butcher to trim it to cut down on the fat. You can marinate and roast this cut creating a tender, tasty meal. Smashed potatoes and honeyed peas & carrots complete the meal. Or cook the roast in the slow cooker creating bbq. Once cooked, you can freeze your barbecue in quart-sized freezer bags for a quick meal later.
2. Smithfield Center Cut Ham Slices are 50% off. This cut of ham is a great choice for a Leftover Makeover. Bake or pan fry the ham slices the first night. Then, cube the leftovers to add into your macaroni & cheese, escalloped potatoes, or fried rice. And, potatoes are on sale this week, so you’re saving money by choosing meats and veggies when they are value priced.
3. Holly Farms Grade A Whole Fryers are $.59 a pound. Another great choice for a Leftover Makeover. Roast your chicken the first night. Then use about 2 c. cooked chicken for chicken noodle soup, chicken ‘n’ dumplings, chicken enchiladas...choices are almost limitless! Or, freeze chopped, cooked chicken for up to 4 months.
4. Fresh Ground Round is $2.49 a pound this week. Make a double batch of chili this week and freeze half in quart-sized freezer bags for chili mac or taco salad later. Onions, cluster tomatoes, and avocados (for topping) are also on sale making chili an economical choice this week.
5. Smithfield Smoked Bacon is BOGO. Many fall dishes tend to have the smoky, homey flavor of bacon, so stock up on these and freeze. Since they are flat, they don’t take up too much space in the freezer. And, who doesn’t love the smell of bacon cooking in the morning? Don’t like to fry bacon and make a big mess on your stovetop? Bake bacon on a sheet pan in 425 degree oven for 10-15 minutes, turning once. When bacon is crisp, drain on paper towels.
6. Martha White Corn Muffin Mix is 3 for $1. Great savings. This mix is good for making corn bread, corn waffles, corn bread crusts, and as chicken and pork breader. Baked corn bread can also be crumbled and made into a stuffing for chicken and pork. Quite versatile to have on hand.
7. Potatoes and carrots are also on special this week. Five-pound bags of white potatoes are BOGO and 2-lb. Bags of whole carrots are $1.29. Excellent savings and perfect sides for the roasted pork and chicken.

Think about what you will cook this week as you are looking through the flyer. Meal plan and make a shopping list before you go to the store. STICK TO YOUR LIST. You’ll spend a little more time planning and preparing, but the reward is saving money, healthy eating, and plan-ahead meals that will make your life easier!
Have questions or want recipe suggestions?? Email me at

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Ready, Set, Plan! How to Get Started Planning Your Family Menu

These days, we all feel the purse strings tighten when we make the weekly trek to the grocery store. I have found that weekly meal planning and a bit of organization has helped me save time and money.
First, I take a quick inventory of my freezer, fridge, and pantry. I’ll check to see if there are fresh vegetables I need to use or frozen meat that’s been in the freezer a while. I will then plan my week of meals around those foods that need to be "used up" sooner rather than later. I also consider what is "on sale" at my local grocery store. If it is cost effective to plan my meals around those items, I do. (Check out this website to find out what's on sale NOW at your local grocery store ) Next, I plan my meals. This step takes about 20 minutes. I try not to plan my meals for specific nights of the week, i.e. hamburgers on Monday, grilled chicken on Tuesday, etc. You never know what is in store for you. Your whole schedule could go up in smoke due to a rained-out baseball game or a stomach bug. The idea behind this style of meal planning is to have the ingredients on hand during the week, and then decide day by day which meal you’ll throw together. I generally only plan five meals per week. Of course, I know there are seven days in a week, but we reserve Friday night for our family "pizza & a movie" night. And, one night a week, we eat hodge-podge leftovers. Our five-meal-plan usually includes one ground beef or venison dish, one chicken breast dish, one slow cooker meal, one fish or shellfish dish, and one beef or pork roast dish. I try to vary the styles and sides due to the season, but we love our meats, so most meals center around meat. The trick to variety is to re-invent the dish that you’ve cooked. John 6:12 (NIV) teaches us that Jesus said to "...Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted." So, it is in that spirit of letting nothing waste that I create new dishes from ones I've already prepared. For example, if you have roast beef one night, it can easily be turned into French dip sandwiches or beef hash later in the week. Sometimes I’ll serve grilled chicken breasts, then chop up the leftovers to make chicken tetrazzini. Of course, you need to make sure you grill enough chicken the first time around so that you’ll have enough chopped, cooked chicken. Many recipes call for about 2 cups, so 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts yield approximately this amount.
I have found that preparing and freezing foods really stretches the dollar and allows me to feed my family homemade, healthy dishes from the freezer with minimal prep. I don’t buy many frozen foods except vegetables. Frozen food boxes take up too much room in the freezer anyway. Plus, I can make and freeze more healthy, budget friendly meals than the store-bought equivalents. For example, I have pork barbeque, Brunswick stew, chicken & black bean quesadillas, roasted garlic manicotti, meatballs, macaroni & cheese, chicken pot pie, venison veggie soup, chili, and clam chowder in my freezer right now. Of course I didn’t make all of these meals in one day or even one week. But, each time I made a dish, I’d double the recipe and put half in the freezer. This eliminates the need to fill your freezer with store-bought, preservative-filled boxed meals. You can thaw your own home-cooked meals for your family anytime.
If your family loves chili mac, spaghetti, and grilled chicken breasts, then start there. Make your own chili mac doubling the recipe. But, before you add the macaroni, freeze half of the chili. Double your meat sauce or marinara and freeze half of it. Grill two extra chicken breasts, then chop and freeze the cooked meat. You’ll find that this little prep step will help you get ahead of the game in meal planning. The next week, you’ll have chili for the taco salad, meat sauce for the lasagne, and chicken for the chicken & dumplings.
Don’t try to start meal planning by trying out a bunch of new or complicated recipes. Just start with what you know your family likes to eat. Think through your week ahead and decide if you want a couple "on-the-go" meals like subs. Then, make sure you prepare a roast early in the week from which you can make roast beef sandwiches, wrap them up, and take them with you. Here’s an example of a week of meals:
1. Roast beef, smashed red-skin potatoes, peas
2. Shrimp scampi with pasta, green salad
3. French dip sandwiches, fruit
4. Spaghetti with meat sauce, garlic toast, steamed veggies
5. Taco salad, fruit
1. Slow cook the roast beef in the crock pot, reserving the cooking liquid for day 3. The only thing to prepare just before supper time is the smashed potatoes and peas.
2. Cook 1 ½ pounds of pasta and reserve 1 pound for day 4.
3. Beef simply needs to be sliced and use cooking liquid from day 1 as your au jus.
4. Brown 2 pounds of ground beef (or a mix of venison, turkey, chicken, beef) and reserve one pound for day 5.
5. Use browned ground beef from day 4 and add your taco seasoning packet. Use salad from day 2 and fruit from day 3.
Each family has it’s own eating style with likes and dislikes. Build your menus around your family's favorites. All the while, you'll be doubling up to save yourself time later and re-creating foods you’ve already prepared. Have fun and healthy eating!